Wat Phra Dhammakaya
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Wat Phra Dhammakaya (Thai: วัดพระธรรมกาย) is a Buddhist temple (wat) in Khlong Luang District, Pathum Thani Province north of Bangkok, Thailand. It is the centre of the Dhammakaya Movement or Dhammakāya Tradition, which was founded in 1970 by Luang Por Dhammajayo. It is part of the Mahanikaya fraternity, and follows the Vijja Dhammaka or Dhammakaya meditation tradition which was started by Phramongkolthepmuni in the early 20th century. The temple teaches the reality of an independent self (the Dhammakaya) in all human beings, which is how it describes the attaining of Nirvana. It is legally represented by the Dhammakaya Foundation.
- 1 Origins and definition
- 2 History
- 3 Controversies
- 4 Present activities
- 5 Temple layout
- 6 Teaching methods
- 7 Identifying features as a religious movement
- 8 Documentary film
- 9 References
- 10 Sources
- 11 Further reading
- 12 External links
Origins and definition
The Dhammakāya Movement was founded in 1970 in Thailand with the establishment by Luang Por Dhammajayo and Luang Por Dattajivo of the Dhammakaya Foundation, the legal representative for the Wat Phra Dhammakaya, which was built during the 1970s and early 1980s. Luang Por Dhammajayo and Luang Por Dattajivo were students of Khun Yay Mahā Ratana Upāsikā Chandra Khonnokyoong, who in turn was a student of Phramongkolthepmuni (1885–1959), the meditation master who developed Dhammakaya meditation and the abbot of Wat Paknam Bhasicharoen, Thonburi. Other temples, such as Wat Luang Phor Sodh Dhammakayaram, also have their roots in Wat Paknam. Newell has pointed out that the term "Dhammakaya Movement" itself is problematic, because it has been used "without distinguishing between the various temples practising dhammakaya meditation and Wat Dhammakaya (sic) itself. (...) There are considerable differences in style, practice and structure of all the temples". She prefers to use the term 'Dhammakaya temples'. She is quoted on this by McDaniel, but he nevertheless uses "Dhammakaya Movement".
Once Luang Por Dhammajayo ordained, he started teaching Dhammakaya meditation together with Konnokyoong. In the beginning, the meditations and teachings carried in a small house called 'Ban Thammaprasit' in the Wat Paknam Bhasicharoen compound. Because of the popularity of both teachers, they considered it more appropriate to start a new temple by themselves. On 23 February 1970, Konnokyoong, Luang Por and their students moved to an eight hundred acre (3,200,000 m2; 2,000 rai) plot of land in Pathum Thani Province, donated by Khunying Prayat Phaetayapongsa-visudhathibodi. The initial budget for construction was very low (3,200 Baht), but despite these economical constraints, the construction of the buildings on the land happened with great attention for detail. For example, the outside of the wall of the chapel was made of gravel that was selected manually.
The site, 16 kilometres north of Don Mueang International Airport, was originally called "Sun Phutthachak-patipattham" (Thai: ศูนย์พุทธจักรปฏิบัติธรรม). At the time Patum Thani was well outside Bangkok's northern suburbs. From acidic paddy fields, a woodland was created to be a park for meditators. Though originally the intention was simply to build a meditation center, under pressure of authorities eventually this was changed to building an official temple. The foundation stone for the ubosot hall was laid by Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn on behalf of King Bhumibol Adulyadej in December 1977. It was officially recognized as a temple by the Thai government the following year as "Wat Voranee Dhammakayaram", which was later changed to "Wat Phra Dhammakaya". The ubosot hall was completed in 1982, and the ceremony for allocating of the ubosot's boundary (sima) was held three years later. During the period of the temple's construction, the Dhammadayada ordination plan gave training to hundreds of university students, who swelled the number of residents in the temple community. The temple has since its inception gained popularity, especially among the growing well-educated and entrepreneurial middle class, mostly of Sino-Thai origin. Royalty and high-standing civil servants have also been known to visit the temple. The temple has experienced tremendous growth in terms of monks, lay workers and temple visitors.
Wat Phra Dhammakaya has attracted considerable criticism and government response from its outset. Scholars have listed several noticeable characteristics, that make the temple stand out and often attract criticism:
- a huge membership;
- the orderliness and system of the organization;
- the reverence the participants have for their teachers;
- alleged ties of the temple to the "Red Shirts" political pressure group: nevertheless some of the major supporters of the temple are publicly known as members of the "Yellow Shirts" political pressure group, which is strongly opposed to the "Red Shirts".
- the large amount of donations given to the temple, which has especially attracted attention during economical crises in Thailand: critics have described this as "religious consumerism", but donors are typically very joyful about their generosity.
Some defenders of the temple have also made the argument that some news outlets over sensationalize certain aspects of the temple, for instance the fundraising, in order to attract more interest from viewers. Songkran Sritongon from the Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok did extensive field research about the temple and believes the criticism comes from the temple's metaphysical teachings, especially the teachings about self and not-self; the temple referring to different Buddhist teachings than the critics; unclear information; a refusal of modern means in propagating Buddhism on the part of the critics and an inability of the temple to explain itself well to the outside world.[page needed] Mackenzie speculates that the Thai public would be more supportive of Wat Phra Dhammakaya if they were aware of the temple's goal of spreading Dhammakaya meditation throughout the world, which would help them understand why such a high level of fundraising is needed.
Public accusations of 1999–2002
In 1999 and again in 2002 Luang Por Dhammajayo was accused of fraud and embezzlement by the media and later the government. At that time social critic Sulak Sivaraksa criticized the Dhammakaya Movement for promoting the raising of funds by emphasizing donations to the temple as a way to make merit. Widespread negative media coverage at this time was symptomatic of the movement being made the scapegoat for commercial malpractice in the Thai Buddhist temple community in the wake of the 1997 Asian financial crisis.
The Sangha Supreme Council declared however that Wat Phra Dhammakaya had not broken any serious offenses against monastic discipline (Vinaya), after having thoroughly investigated the accusations by several means, among which setting up a telephone line to gather information from the public. In 2006, The Thai National Office for Buddhism cleared Luang Por Dhammajayo of all accusations when he agreed to offer all the funds to the name of the temple.
Accusations that the Thai Government had financed the activities at Wat Phra Dhammakaya were made in a letter by Sulak Sivaraksa on 10 May 2010 but the government issued a press release on 12 May to deny the accusations.
On 29 October 2015, the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) stated its investigators had found that Supachai Srisuppa-aksorn, ex-chairman of the Klongchan Credit Union Cooperative (KCUK), had fraudulently authorised 878 cheques worth 11.37 billion baht, in which a portion totaling 674 million baht was traced to the Wat Phra Dhammakaya. The rest were traced to numerous other organizations. Spokespeople of Wat Phra Dhammakaya explained that Luang Por Dhammajayo was not aware that the donations were illegally obtained because Srisuppa-aksorn told the temple he ran several successful businesses, and the temple lacks the means to check for illegally obtained money. Once the donations were revealed to be linked to embezzlement accusations, supporters of the temple raised the 674 million baht linked to Wat Phra Dhammakaya to donate to the KCUC, to keep it from becoming insolvent. The credit union then dropped all complaints and issued a letter of appreciation to the temple, after which the court dropped the case. Regardless, the DSI has submitted the case to public prosecutors to decide whether to file charges.
The DSI itself has seen its political neutrality questioned however, even by leading people within the department itself. Other departments of the Thai justice system have come out to state that DSI has not been handling the investigation well with proper legal procedure. Analysts from different news outlets have pointed out that the actions of the Thai goverment towards the temple may reflect a political need to control who should be selected as the next Supreme Patriarch, since Luang Phor Dhammajayo's preceptor, Somdet Phra Maha Ratchamangalacharn, is currently the main candidate. In fact, the Somdet has already been proposed by the Sangha Supreme Council, but as of April 2016, the proposal had not yet been processed by the Thai government.
Under the leadership of Luang Por Dhammajayo, the image of the Dhammakaya temple has made a recovery, and in 2004-2005 had received further recognition for its contribution to world peace from organizations such as the World Health Organization, the Thai Senate, the National Office of Buddhism, several peoples' associations in the South of Thailand, and many Buddhist organizations in Asia.
The temple promotes an ethical lifestyle, using the five and eight precepts as a foundation. The temple has encouraged Thais to quit drinking and smoking through the activities of a nation-wide anti-drinking and anti-smoking program, called Te Lao Phao Buri (Thai: เทเหล้าเผาบูหรี่), cooperating with members of other religious traditions. This program has led the World Health Organization (WHO) to present a World No Tobacco Day award for this work on 31 May 2004.
Wat Phra Dhammakaya emphasizes youth and young adults in its orientation. The Buddhist societies of many of the universities and colleges are led by supporters of the temple. Since 1972, a training program has been held, known as Dhammadayada. People who want to ordain temporarily as monks join this program, which is a custom in Thai tradition. During such a training program, the participants keep the eight precepts and go through a rigorous training in order to become monk, after which they ordain for the remaining period of at least one month. The program initially focused on university students, but has later on broadened its focus to the general public. An international Dhammadaya program also exists, held in Chinese and English. For women, a parallel training program is held, in which the eight precepts are kept, but the women do not shave their hair in the manner of mae chi or nuns. This program has been popular, joined by 400 participants per year on average, as of 2007. The temple has also organized a World Peace Ethics Contest in which schools all over Thailand (as of 2006, 19,839 schools) and a number of schools in other countries compete in their knowledge of Buddhist ethics. Later on, the temple extended its youth activities to include a training course in Buddhist practice known as V-star, and a national day of Buddhist activities known as V-star day.
The temple has a social dimension in its activities. It has promoted blood donations. In 2004, it helped victims of the 2004 Tsunami disaster in Thailand. It has granted financial aid and supplies to schools and hundreds of temples in southern Thailand, presently the scene of political and religious conflict.
Wat Phra Dhammakaya is known for its emphasis on meditation, especially samatha meditation. Every Sunday morning, meditation is taught to the general public. Every weekend a meditation retreat is held at the temple at no cost. Seven-day retreats are held regularly at several locations, during which particpants are required to keep the eight precepts. These are held in several languages. Dhammakaya meditation is very popular in Thailand and other parts of South-East Asia and the movement's teaching of samatha meditation has been described as a revival in Thailand.
The temple has been active in promoting Buddhist scholarship since the 1990s, notably producing a cd with the Pali Canon in cooperation with the Pali Text Society. In 2010, Wat Phra Dhammakaya started the Dhammachai Tipitaka Project, providing facilities for scholars worldwide to work together collecting ancient manuscripts, to make a critical edition of the Pali Canon. There are over a 100 staff members worldwide, divided in manuscript reading teams working on the project. In 2011, several Thai news papers said that Wat Phra Dhammakaya tried to re-write the Pali Canon, referring to an interview with Anilman Dhammasakiyo of the Mahamakut Buddhist University. The temple denied this in a press statement, however. Having checked with Dhammasakiyo himself, the temple concluded that he never gave any interview, and was, in fact, not even staying in Thailand at that time.
The temple also has its own satellite channel known as Dhammakaya Media Channel (DMC), and an open university. The temple is known for its modern management and iconography, and is active in using modern media and public relations.
As of 2006, the community living at Wat Phra Dhammakaya numbered more than a thousand monks and novices, and hundreds of laypeople. Apart from that, the temple also has a huge number of volunteers for help in ceremonies. Congregations on Sundays and major religious holidays reach 100,000. In June 2016, the temple had more than hundred branch temples and centers, in 21 countries worldwide.
The 320 hectare temple grounds contain roughly 150 buildings. Several buildings are off-limits to all but the most senior temple insiders. The general appearance of the temple is clean and orderly. Buildings are functionalist with minimal ornamentation.
- Main Chapel: Unusual in a Buddhist temple building in Thailand, the chapel is characterized by clean lines and simplicity. The building was awarded an Honourable Mention in the Association of Siamese Architects (ASA) awards in 1998.
- Daowadung Building: The residence of Phrathepyanmahamuni.
The World Dhammakaya Center
Since 1985 the number of people joining the ceremonies of the temple exceeded its capacity and prompted the decision to expand the site and the building of the World Dhammakaya Centre (WDC). In the area there are six main landmarks.
- The Great Sapha Dhammakaya Hall: This hangar-like construction built in 1997 is a multi-functional two-storey building is used for meditation, Buddhist lectures and ceremonies, youth training courses and monastic conferences. The upper level has been designed to accommodate 150,000 people and the lower level is used primarily for parking but can be used as seating capacity for an additional 150,000 people if necessary.
- The Dhammakaya Cetiya: The Dhammakaya Cetiya is described by the temple as a symbol of world peace through inner peace. It is built entirely on international public contributions, and is meant to be an embodiment of unity and love for mankind. The design is following the architectural style of the the oldest surviving cetiya at Sanchi. It has the shape of a hemispherical dome, 32 meter high and 108 meters in diameter. The exterior that holds the 300,000 Buddha images on the hemispherical dome and the terraces of the Dhammakaya Cetiya are cladded in silicon bronze which is frequently used for submarine propellers due to its strength and chemical resistance. The Buddha images are made in accordance with the 32 characteristics of the Buddha's body, mentioned in the Pali Canon. Inside the Cetiya are a Buddha image and several relics, of which the Buddha image symbolizes the possibility of liberation through meditation. The large open area around the Cetiya can accomodate 600,000 people. The temple intends for the Cetiya to become a meeting-place for Buddhists all over the world."
- The Grand Meditation Amphitheatre: The Grand Meditation Amphitheatre is the name of a two-storey cloister built to accommodate monks, novices and peace-loving people from around the world to meditate and pray.
- The Memorial Hall of Khun Yay Archaraya Chandra Khonnokyoong: This hexagonal pyramid-shaped chapel was built in 2002. It is made of gold-tinted plate glass. It is a two-storey structure. The lower floor is a museum with an exhibition telling the biography of Khun Yay Maha Ratana Upasika Chandra Khonnokyoong, the nun who founded Wat Phra Dhammakaya. The upper floor houses a golden image of the nun.
- The Memorial Hall of Phramonkolthepmuni: This circular domed building was built in 2002 in honour of the revered monk Phramongkolthepmuni, the founder of the Dhammakaya Movement. At present it houses an exhibition and a golden statue of that monk. The building is open to visitors and pilgrims.
- The Dining Hall of Khun yay Archaraya Chandra Khonnokyoong: Named after the founder of the Dhammakaya Temple, the Dining Hall of Khun Yay can seat up to 6,000 monks. Everyday, lay people come to offer food and refreshments to more than 1,200 monks and novices who reside at this temple.
One of the reasons why the temple emphasizes huge gatherings during ceremonies, as stated in the temple's literature, is that such gatherings will effect that "people of the world will stop, think and ask themselves why so many people have gathered in one place to meditate.(...) and they will strive to find the answer for themselves."
In his teachings Luang Por Dhammajayo was heavily influenced by Konnokyoong. He turned the Dhammakaya meditation method originating in Wat Paknam "into an entire guide of living" (McDaniel), emphasizing cleanliness, orderliness and quiet. In Wat Phra Dhammakaya, ceremonies are commonly held on Sundays rather than the traditional lunar calendar-based Uposatha days. Lay people joining the ceremonies are strongly encouraged to wear white, a traditional custom. No smoking, drinking or flirting is allowed on the temple terrain, nor newspapers, animals and fortune-telling. Traditional, noisy temple fairs are not held. Children attending activities at Wat Phra Dhammakaya are taken care of through Sunday school and crèche while their parents attend the adult meditation sessions in the Great Sapha Dhammakaya Hall. There are activities for children and young people. The temple's lifestyle promotes good family values and emphasizes a network of like-minded friends to facilitate spiritual development. Through its fund-raising activities and volunteer work, the temple emphasizes the "making of merit".
In 1988, Kukrit Pramoj, who had been Thailand's prime minister from 1975 to 1976, questioned "whether the temple is offering spirituality or religious pleasure comparable to that of recreation clubs and fishing parks?’ Wat Phra Dhammakaya responded by saying that they are empowering lay people to engage with, rather than renounce the world they live in, through moral and meditation training.
Scholars disagree as to how the temple relates to the miraculous. Zehner says the temple does not involve itself in the trade of amulets and miracle stories, but Seeger says it does. Mackenzie says that visitors of the temple look for different things: "Some members especially appreciate the logic and relevance of the Dhamma talks, others draw much from the effect the cetiya and other images have on them, others place a special value on meeting their friends and clearly many have a very strong focus on meditation. I have also met members who look to experience the miraculous at the temple..."
Another feature of Wat Phra Dhammakaya’s international approach is that in not-Buddhist countries Dhammakaya meditation is taught as a religiously neutral technique suitable for those of all faiths, or none.
Identifying features as a religious movement
The Dhammakaya movement belongs to the ancient Maha Nikaya tradition of Thai Theravada Buddhism. Despite having been included in the controversial, global Fundamentalism Project studies, many scholars do not regard the movement as a new movement or a fundamentalist movement, but rather as a movement with revivalist characteristics.
According to the Dhammakaya Movement, the Buddha made the discovery that nirvana is nothing less than the true Self'. According to Williams, in some respects the teachings of the Dhammakaya Movement resemble the Buddha-nature and Trikaya doctrines of Mahāyāna Buddhism. He sees the Dhammakaya Movement of Thailand as having developed independently of the Mahayana tathāgatagarbha tradition but as achieving some remarkably similar results in their understanding of Buddhism. The Movement believes in Phramongkolthepmuni's teaching that the spiritual essence of the Buddha and nirvana exist as a literal reality within each individual. According to Williams,
"[Dhammakaya] meditations involve the realization, when the mind reaches its purest state, of an unconditioned "Dhamma Body" (dhammakaya) in the form of a luminous, radiant and clear Buddha figure free of all defilements and situated within the body of the meditator. Nirvana is the true Self, and this is also the dhammakaya." 
The bulk of Thai Theravāda Buddhism rejects this teaching and insists upon non-self as a universal fact. As against this, Phra Thepyanmonkol, the abbot of Wat Luang Phor Sodh Dhammakayaram, argues that it tends to be scholars who hold the view of absolute non-self, rather than Buddhist meditators. Also, only the compounded and conditioned is non-self - not nirvana. Williams summarises Phra Thepyanmonkol’s views (in his book referred to by his former title Phra Rajyanvisith), and adds his own comment at the end:
"[Scholars] incline towards a not-Self perspective. But only scholars hold that view. By way of contrast, Phra Rajyanvisith mentions in particular the realizations of several distinguished forest hermit monks. Moreover, he argues, impermanence, suffering and not-Self go together. Anything which is not-Self is also impermanent and suffering. But, it is argued, nirvana is not suffering, nor is it impermanent. It is not possible to have something which is permanent, not suffering (i.e. is happiness) and yet for it still to be not-Self. Hence it is not not-Self either. It is thus (true, or transcendental) Self." (…)
"These ways of reading Buddhism in terms of a true Self certainly seem to have been congenial in the East Asian environment, and hence flourished in that context where for complex reasons Mahayana too found a ready home."
The Dhammakaya movement, however, does not see itself as Mahāyānist, but as modern Theravāda. Since the 2000s, new evidence has been brought forward though that Phramongkolthepmuni's approach might originate from Yogavacara tradition (also known as tantric Theravada). The Dhammakaya meditation method managed to survive modernization pressures to reform during the 20th century C.E. and scholars have theorized that there is an ancestry to be found in common with Yogavacara. It may be noted, however, that Phramongkolthepmuni did strongly condemn the use of magical practices, which are associated with the Yogavacara tradition. He said that magic was not part of the core of the Buddha's teaching. There is currently not enough evidence to draw any conclusions about the relation between Yogavacara and Dhammakaya.
In July 2014, filming began on a documentary entitled White Lotus, which follows the journey of a Westerner who temporarily ordains as a monk at Wat Phra Dhammakaya. Directed by Somchay Phakonkham, it was the first documentary film to be filmed at the temple. It was finished in 2016.
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With regard to the statement that Anilman Dhammasakiyo has made to mass media that Wat Phra Dhammakāya has invited Pāḷi specialist scholars from several countries to edit the Tipiṭaka, by changing the Three Characteristics, anicca, dukkha and anattā, Wat Phra Dhammakāya wishes to declare the following: There is nobody in the world who can change the teaching on the Three Characteristics in the Tipiṭaka, because each of the editions of the Tipiṭaka, whether it be the Thai Siam Rat edition, the Sri Lankese Buddhajayanti edition, the Birmese Chaṭṭha Saṅgāyanā Edition, or the edition from the Pali Text Society in the UK, clearly describe this teaching. If anyone were to arbitrarily change anything regarding this matter, it would clearly not agree with the evidence that can already be found in all the existent editions of the Tipiṭaka. Certainly nobody would accept such a thing, and it would only be detrimental to the person making the changes. It would not be beneficial in any way. The Tipiṭaka project that Wat Phra Dhammakāya is running now, aims to maintain old palm leaf manuscripts that can be found in places of ancient traditions, such as in Thailand, Lanna, Sri Lanka, Birma and Cambodia. Sadly, these manuscripts in many places become rotten, or are infested by termites in the passage of time. Wat Phra Dhammakāya does this work by taking digital scans of these documents and save these in the computer, to make it more convenient for international scholars to study and do research. The wat therefore cooperates with scholars in checking the scans, so that a comprehensive Tipiṭaka database of information can be made. In this database, it will be possible to find information on every (Buddhist) tradition conveniently and fast using digital computer technology. This is a tremendous amount of work, that can only be done in international cooperation with scholars, and will take decades. But it will be of great benefit in studying and doing research on the Tipiṭaka. At present, Thai society is already full of conflict and dissension. We therefore ask everyone to please not allow ignorance and misunderstandings to cause any further dissension in the Buddhist world.
- "พระอนิลมาน ธมฺมสากิโย ปฏิเสธไม่เคยให้สัมภาษณ์ กรณีโครงการพระไตรปิฎกของวัดพระธรรมกาย ("Ven.Anilman Dhammasakiyo denies having given an interview about the Dhammachai Tipitaka Project")" (in Thai). Dhamma Research for Environment Foundation. DMC News. 2011-03-25. Retrieved 2016-08-23.
Ven. Anilman denies having ever done an interview with any media Regarding the news of the interview with Ven. Anilman, according to which Ven. Anilman criticizes the teachings and research project of Wat Phra Dhammakāya, Wat Phra Dhammakāya received an e-mail message from Ven. Anilman in which he denies having had any interview with any mass media. Ven Anilman Dhammasākiyo states that he is currently travelling to give a talk at a university in the United States. He received the news from Thailand from his student monks, which was very disturbing and surprising to him. He said he did not understand what news the news reporters have written, referring to him in certain matters, considering that he was still in the United States, and had not contacted anyone for a long while. He remembered he once had a personal conversation with his students, analyzing and praising Wat Phra Dhammakāya that they really devoted themselves to study and research in the Tipiṭaka project, and that they hired Pāli scholars from abroad to help on this project. This happened a long time ago however, and Ven. Anilman cannot remember when he spoke about this, because it was a personal conversation, not a all a public Dhamma sermon. But then he saw his account in the newspaper in the past days about several issues, in which the mass media incorrectly described his academic position. He felt very shocked with the events happening and the communication and spreading of news, to which he never gave his cooperation. Currently Ven. Anilman is trying to find information on what happened, and whether there is someone trying to discredit Wat Phra Dhammakāya, and clearly using Ven. Anilman's name and involving him. Ven. Anilman therefore informed Wat Phra Dhammakāya about these matters, to prevent any widespread misunderstanding from arising. He also requested to inform Luang Phor Dattajīvo, the vice-abbot of Wat Phra Dhammakāya, about the fact that he is being used in an attempt at slander. On the date mentioned in the news paper, he was not even in Thailand.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Wat Phra Dhammakaya.|
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- Why is Wat Phra Dhammakaya so Controversial?
- White Lotus - A documentary film by Somchay Phakonkham
- Temple of Profit, ABC Australia
- The Stairway to Heaven is All Booked Up, The Nation, September 1, 2012
- "Thai monk defies arrest" BBC News, August 24, 1999
- "Most Serene of Sects Creates Uproar in Buddhism" by Seth Mydans, Pathum Thani Journal, August 13, 1999
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